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Escape Artist
10-17-2011, 09:15 PM
I'm not too keen on the title I gave this thread as I'm not sure it really conveys what I'm trying to say, but here goes...

I'm looking for either book recommendations (fiction or otherwise) or tips on making a winged humanoid creature as believable as possible. He is a grim reaper - in my story, they are a race of beings, not just one guy - so I suppose I could explain away some things supernaturally, but I'd like for his wings to be as organic (maybe that's the word I'm looking for - I dunno) as possible.

Some details: his wings are like that of a bird, and I know that birds spend a great deal of time caring for their wings - preening, cleaning, etc. How would he preen them? I know that little reaper babies and toddlers will flutter their wings in the bath or even take a dust bath if they get near a sandbox and I can see the adults showering or what not, though of course they might need a bigger shower than your typical human, but I'm just not sure about the preening as they don't have beaks. Their wings are of the more silent type, like an owl's are, if that makes any difference at all.

Another thing I've wondered about is body weight. Birds are light and have hollow bones (from what little I understand of them) so does that mean my guy would need to be built that way as well? What would the repercussions of that be? Would he be more fragile, etc.? But then, bumblebees fly and aren't they technically too big for their wings to carry them? This guy is lean and lithe, definitely on the skinny side, but there's another reaper who'd I'd class as a bumblebee - a big, muscular guy and yet he flies, too. Now, as a note, my reapers would most likely have fewer organs in their bodies than we do. They subsist off of pure soul energy and there is nothing left to waste - they have no need of intestines or anything else that assists the body in ridding itself of waste. Roughly how many organs would get the boot because of this, and which ones? Keep in mind that they do have a stomach-like organ and that they can feed their young through cropping (not sure what organs birds possess that allow them to do that - gotta look that up).

I've also wondered about the flexibility of the wings and how dexterous they could be without compromising flight. Say, if they're as nimble as fingers, would they be too flexible for flying?

And then of course there are the everyday concerns to contend with - how does a reaper sleep? On their stomachs, I assume as lying on their wings would be uncomfortable. What kind of furniture would reapers use? I tend to think they'd have backless chairs if only to ease the accommodation of their wings and that when using human chairs, they wrap their wings around their middles. As far as transportation, I figure they fly most places but some of them do like to ride motorcycles on occasion (I'm thinking cars would feel too cramped for them). But do those things come across as believable to you guys?

I'm assuming weather would ground them on occasion (heavy snow or rain) and that they'd probably get a little depressed or stir-crazy if grounded for too long.

I guess what I'm getting at is that I'd like the reader to be able to suspend as little disbelief as possible.

Torgo
10-17-2011, 09:17 PM
Interesting stuff here: http://hplusbiopolitics.wordpress.com/2008/04/01/why-cant-i-have-wings/

Darkshore
10-17-2011, 09:28 PM
I'm guilty of having read one or two of these novels....James Patterson has written a few MG books dealing with children that have been specifically bred in labs to have hollow bones, wings, strength, etc. They weren't really that good, but they weren't awful and they might help you with an idea of how to make believable winged beings. The series is called Maximum Ride I believe.

Filigree
10-17-2011, 09:38 PM
Two books/series that have done a tolerable job of portraying winged humanoids: the recent THE CLOUD ROADS by Martha Wells, and Laurie Marks' 'Children of the Triad' series. Neither of these have a human main character, but the MCs are human-enough, and the mechanics of flight (and the bodies that result) are well-addressed.

Patterson's stuff isn't even worth reading for research, since he obviously couldn't be bothered to do his.

movieman
10-17-2011, 09:44 PM
I'm sure there was a thread either here or in the research forum earlier this year about large birds; from what I remember the conclusion was that something bigger than human size can fly, but it's more likely to glide than flap.

My guess is that you'd need a skeleton made of something tougher than bone (so the muscle forces didn't break it apart) and muscles made of something other than muscle, so you could flap the wings with enough power to fly, and you'd need much larger wings than you'd see on an angel painting.

I have flying humans in one of my SF novels, but I cheat; they live on a low-gravity asteroid where angel-like wings are perfectly viable.

Torgo
10-17-2011, 09:46 PM
Patterson's stuff isn't even worth reading for research, since he obviously couldn't be bothered to do his.

Let alone any actual writing...

Fenika
10-17-2011, 10:07 PM
Dinosaurs did just fine with their muscles and bones. They just need the right anatomy to handle the physiology.

Wings come up a lot on this forum. There was one a few months ago with a lot of discussion.

Escape Artist
10-17-2011, 10:12 PM
I like the low-gravity idea, though I wouldn't be able to use it for my WIP. I'm writing an urban fantasy (though it could possibly be classified as contemporary fantasy, idk), and so as with all fantasy, I as a writer assume that the reader is going to come into the book expecting to suspend a certain level of disbelief. They want an escape and so would be more willing than readers of other genres to believe the unbelievable. Still, if I'm going to expect the reader to believe that these guys can fly despite the fact that science would say it's impossible due to their size, I'd like to make everything else as realistic as possible (the caring of their wings, the dexterity of them, etc.). I'm the kind of reader who can suspend a hell of a lot of disbelief - so long as the story is engaging, I really don't question things too much - but I know not all readers are like that.

P.S. - I'll be sure to check out other threads on here for further wing discussion. Thanks!

movieman
10-17-2011, 10:19 PM
Dinosaurs did just fine with their muscles and bones. They just need the right anatomy to handle the physiology.

Pterosaurs were gliders, weren't they? I'm not certain because it seems to change every couple of years :).

sunandshadow
10-17-2011, 10:35 PM
With winged humanoids, as a reader I'd be more concerned that their culture was realistic than anything about their anatomy. I have some stories about feathered dragon people and I haven't had one reader tell me their ability to fly makes no sense, instead they comment on the plot, the character consistency, the dialogue, etc.

Kelkelen
10-17-2011, 10:43 PM
They'd need *massive* pectoral muscles. That's the key feature of all flying anatomy, I think. Lighter, hollower bones would be good, but the main thing is that human musculature is nowhere near flight-capable. So your fliers might just have to look a bit more avian, particularly in the torso -- think of the shape of a bird's torso; that's almost ALL pectoral muscle. Also, are the reapers going to have arms and hands? In avian anatomy, the arm and hand bones = the wing. With all your wondering about furniture and things, I would again look to birds. Do the reapers have humanoid feet, or avian? Often, birds are capable of "locking" their feet and knees around a branch, and sleeping while clinging to it.

Darkshore
10-17-2011, 10:45 PM
Ouch. I knew there was a lot of Patterson hate hehe. I can't really recall the specifics since it was quite a long time ago that I gave one of those a read, but it must have been worse than I recalled.

jaeladarling
10-18-2011, 12:12 AM
Your humanoid will need to look quite different if you're trying to make this as realistic as possible. As others have said, souped-up pecs are up there on the priority list.

As for bone structure...well, you could have hollow bones, but what if their bones are hollow and made of a different type of bone? Your comment about bumblebees had me thinking that not every flying thing is made equal. Bumblebees don't have bones, after all. So maybe your humanoid doesn't have to be a weakling; maybe it could have a special bone type found in those flying humanoids. Like, hollow but with a certain lightweight yet strong coating or something to maintain strength.

As for preening, if you're worried about them getting all those little hard-to-reach areas, why not allow their heads to move either all the way around or enough to look backwards, like an owl? And then their eyes could have a surrounding gaze too, so they can see better. If they have longer arms or are able to pop them out of joint and stretch them, then that could also help them clean their wings.

If you're worried about sleep, take note from flamingos and let them sleep standing up. I think backless furniture would be great for this type of creature, as you have suggested. As far as motorcycles go, that's too far-fetched for me (personal opinion only), but maybe you could concoct something similar that wouldn't sound so strange.

Hope that rambling helps some. :)

BunnyMaz
10-18-2011, 01:17 AM
Preening could be a bonding activity, like grooming was for our ape ancestors. As humans, we still groom our children and we may help out our loved ones (I plait the Mister's hair for him and I'm responsible for trimming his hair and beard). There's little, bodily, that we need help from others for grooming-wise, though. In a species where the wings are attached to a humanoid frame, with its short, less flexible neck, I can imagine mutual grooming remaining a much more acceptable activity.

Remember with bees, that their insect wings move in a very different way to those of birds and have no skeleton, which means calculations of wing size versus body size aren't going to translate between the two.

Jess Haines
10-18-2011, 01:34 AM
Sharon Shinn's books would probably fit the bill for what you're searching for. I started with ARCHANGEL. It's very good. Don't have time to go into the details, but there are genetically engineered "angels" who watch over the populace. Check 'em out.

SPMiller
10-18-2011, 01:34 AM
In an Earth-like environment, with the atmosphere and the gravity we have, winged humanoids cannot be both scientifically believable and aesthetically attractive. They would, in essence, have to look more like birds than humans. The popular image of a standard human simply having a pair of wings stuck onto the mid- or upper-back is laughably bad.

Better to just not care about the science and write it however you want.

Elise-K-Ra'sha
10-18-2011, 01:39 AM
I have winged humanoids in some of my works as well, and one is a famous warrior not only amongst his clan but throughout the established world as well. He can no longer fly due to the number of battles he's fought in and the fact his wings have been broken numerous times. They've been tended to properly so it's hard to tell just by looking at him that they've been broken, but, because they have, he just can't use them to support his weight in flight. That's one thing I had to consider with him and just how proud/snooty he was of his appearance. ^_^

Escape Artist
10-18-2011, 02:15 AM
In an Earth-like environment, with the atmosphere and the gravity we have, winged humanoids cannot be both scientifically believable and aesthetically attractive. They would, in essence, have to look more like birds than humans. The popular image of a standard human simply having a pair of wings stuck onto the mid- or upper-back is laughably bad.

Better to just not care about the science and write it however you want.

That's what I'm thinking - just forget the science and write the damn thing (as I've been doing). I guess I just see comments on books or reviews, etc. and people seem to nitpick these type of things so I wanted to make it at least a little more plausible. But people read about vampires and werewolves all the time and to me, the whole shape-shifter thing is one of the most difficult to believe. It's harder for me to believe that a creature can completely change its shape than to believe that there could be a race of beings who look very similar to us and yet can fly. When I see a big-ass airplane in the sky, my brain says that thing should not be able to fly, but it's up there nonetheless. I think I'd think the same thing if I saw a guy flying up in the sky - that there is an explanation for his being able to do so (whether supernatural or natural) and I just don't know what it is. This is one of those situations that most likely boils down to writing what I would like to read and just hoping there are other who'd like to read something similar and want to read it enough that they're willing to suspend disbelief on the whole physics aspect of it.

Martin Persson
10-18-2011, 03:57 AM
The wingspan of a winged human need to be huge for them to be able to fly. They need to have bigger area then a hang glider to be able to lift of the ground. And since they have different shape then the hang gliders you need to compensate by being long. And to flap them you need a breast muscles so big it would be like two extra torsos on the body.

You need to make their homeworld smaller, thus having lesser of that thing called gravity to annoy them. Otherwise making winged humanoids realistic is not possible.

Jamesaritchie
10-18-2011, 04:16 AM
You can always set the story on a planet with a thicker atmosphere. This makes flight much easier. If there's a problem, it's that other SF writers have already used this device.

Snick
10-18-2011, 04:42 AM
There were prersaurs that had wing span of 30 feet. I don't recall what they weighed. They were, like all large birds, giders that probably rode thermals. There are humans who weigh considerably less than 100 pounds, so there are possibilities. You might compare the weight to area ratios that are used for hang gliders. Between small body weight and large wings I think it would be possible.

As another noted, it's magic. Harpies were written about a few thousand years ago, and they were unlikely.

Kelkelen
10-18-2011, 07:16 AM
Also, there's no reason why humans would grow feathers. We'd probably have hairy skin wings, like bats. That is NOT to nit-pick; just saying that I agree, you should write them looking how you want and science be damned! If you actually tried to make a flying race that was scientifically plausible, in the end, you would have invented... a large bird.

Martin Persson
10-18-2011, 02:12 PM
You can always set the story on a planet with a thicker atmosphere. This makes flight much easier. If there's a problem, it's that other SF writers have already used this device.

Would make absolutely no difference because the preasure within the body would also be higher and increase the body mass.

Elise-K-Ra'sha
10-18-2011, 06:15 PM
Would make absolutely no difference because the preasure within the body would also be higher and increase the body mass.

I think when it comes to fantasy, it ultimately doesn't matter. There are things in real life that defy all scientific logic. Bumblebees can fly and they shouldn't even be able to given how delicate and fragile their wings are compared to their body mass.

veinglory
10-18-2011, 07:28 PM
I also went for the winged people being in a lower gravity setting, as well as significantly lighter which has quite a lot of implications when is comes to day-to-day activities. As for furniture, the didn't use it very much as the wings are too long to sit down.

GeorgeK
10-18-2011, 08:20 PM
How do these Reapers feed off someone? If they eat at all, they will need a complete digestive tract, but those organs don't have to be as large as ours since their primary food is other than food as we know it. I'd envision a very shrunken scaphoid appearance to the abdomen.

You want something that looks like an angel, 6 limbs, 2 of which are feathered wings. Since there are no models in archeology of this, the simplest, "scientific," explaination for this would be convergent evolution. These things are in no way related to people. They just evolved to look like us which made it easier to feed off us. They do not have human musculature at the molecular level. They have bursts of tremendous strength which gets them off the ground and then they have to soar on thermals like vultures. I'd, "scientifically," accept something roughly the size of a condor for modern environmental considerations. Part of their feeding could be a mesmerism effect and altered depth perception so that people think they are human sized creature when in fact they are smaller.

Viktor Night
10-18-2011, 10:01 PM
I don't think you'll find a satisfactory answer in the realm of science. The problem is the bird or bumblebee structure can't be applied to humans because of the mass ratio. When you double the scale of something (twice as wide on the X, Y and Z axis) you will multiply the mass by eight. A bumblebee the size of even a sparrow probably wouldn't be able to fly because it throws off the fine-tuned ratio. It's just plain too heavy to fly without a drastic redesign. The science approach would leave you with a person that has hollow bones, a gigantic muscled torso, probably atrophied limbs, and a 40+ foot wingspan.

Just make them look how you want to and give them the power of flight. Nobody will question it if there's an obviously magical component to it. If you start reaching for a scientific explanation, you'll end up with dozens of people (like us in this thread) telling you why it won't work. Even when you think you have it absolutely perfect, someone with a Masters in Biology will come along and pick it apart.

Suspension of disbelief is your friend.

Elise-K-Ra'sha
10-18-2011, 10:26 PM
How do these Reapers feed off someone? If they eat at all, they will need a complete digestive tract, but those organs don't have to be as large as ours since their primary food is other than food as we know it. I'd envision a very shrunken scaphoid appearance to the abdomen.

You want something that looks like an angel, 6 limbs, 2 of which are feathered wings. Since there are no models in archeology of this, the simplest, "scientific," explaination for this would be convergent evolution. These things are in no way related to people. They just evolved to look like us which made it easier to feed off us. They do not have human musculature at the molecular level. They have bursts of tremendous strength which gets them off the ground and then they have to soar on thermals like vultures. I'd, "scientifically," accept something roughly the size of a condor for modern environmental considerations. Part of their feeding could be a mesmerism effect and altered depth perception so that people think they are human sized creature when in fact they are smaller.

Why bother with it being humanoid if it's going to be more bird than anything else? ;)

I think we're going to veer away from everything being "scientifically".

Elise-K-Ra'sha
10-18-2011, 10:27 PM
I don't think you'll find a satisfactory answer in the realm of science. The problem is the bird or bumblebee structure can't be applied to humans because of the mass ratio. When you double the scale of something (twice as wide on the X, Y and Z axis) you will multiply the mass by eight. A bumblebee the size of even a sparrow probably wouldn't be able to fly because it throws off the fine-tuned ratio. It's just plain too heavy to fly without a drastic redesign. The science approach would leave you with a person that has hollow bones, a gigantic muscled torso, probably atrophied limbs, and a 40+ foot wingspan.

Just make them look how you want to and give them the power of flight. Nobody will question it if there's an obviously magical component to it. If you start reaching for a scientific explanation, you'll end up with dozens of people (like us in this thread) telling you why it won't work. Even when you think you have it absolutely perfect, someone with a Masters in Biology will come along and pick it apart.

Suspension of disbelief is your friend.

Absolutely in agreement with this!

Satori1977
10-18-2011, 11:12 PM
I agree, I don't think there is a way to make this scientifically plausible. Look at a lot of paranormal creatures - vamps, shifters, zombies. How many books use science to reason why and how they exist? Most are more about magic than science. None of these creatures can exist in this world. So just have fun with it.

Escape Artist
10-18-2011, 11:27 PM
I don't think you'll find a satisfactory answer in the realm of science. The problem is the bird or bumblebee structure can't be applied to humans because of the mass ratio. When you double the scale of something (twice as wide on the X, Y and Z axis) you will multiply the mass by eight. A bumblebee the size of even a sparrow probably wouldn't be able to fly because it throws off the fine-tuned ratio. It's just plain too heavy to fly without a drastic redesign. The science approach would leave you with a person that has hollow bones, a gigantic muscled torso, probably atrophied limbs, and a 40+ foot wingspan.

Just make them look how you want to and give them the power of flight. Nobody will question it if there's an obviously magical component to it. If you start reaching for a scientific explanation, you'll end up with dozens of people (like us in this thread) telling you why it won't work. Even when you think you have it absolutely perfect, someone with a Masters in Biology will come along and pick it apart.

Suspension of disbelief is your friend.

I think most of my problem is that I want to explain too much in my writing. The devil is definitely in the details and I really need to learn how to back away from those and trust the reader to fill in the blanks. My interest is by far more in the characters themselves than in the little ins and outs of how they tick, but sometimes I get sidetracked with those things and will stay sidetracked for a while (especially when my MC is a very, very curious person who wonders these things herself).

Anyway, the basic gist of the world is that humans can see all the supernatural goings-on in their world (whatever higher being created this world wanted no dishonesty whatsoever and wanted everything to be upfront. It's an alternate version of earth in which the creator chose to have no veil over humanity's eyes) and they can see these reapers (psychopomps) in action. They can touch them, interact with them, etc. The psychopomps themselves aren't really too sure of their role, as in, they don't know what happens to souls once they release them, they don't even know whether there really is a heaven or hell. They just do what they do. But just because these beings are seen does not mean that humans are friendly to them. Probably precisely because so many things about them cannot be explained through science. We don't understand them, so we don't trust them, etc. As a result, they are a bit reclusive and somewhat reluctant to interact with humans and little is known about them. I don't think it would matter how many years you might have existed alongside these kind of creatures, you'd probably still view them as scavengers or jackals who descend upon your loved one at their death and suck away the part of them that made them who they were. There'd certainly be resentment and anger on the part of humans because of this.

Anyhow, I suppose there is a magical component, although I'm not too fond of the word magic. Everytime I hear magic I think "hocus-pocus" and spellbooks and witches, etc. but I suppose anything that can't be proven scientifically would be deemed magic. But that's just me. I've never cared for the terms hero or heroine, either. Those make me think of people dressed up in superhero suits or whatever.

Thanks for all the suggestions and helps and obvious proof that I can't have my cake and eat it, too. After all, if a reader has a hard time suspending disbelief when they read about my flying psychopomps, then they're reading the wrong book!

GeorgeK
10-20-2011, 01:32 AM
Why bother with it being humanoid if it's going to be more bird than anything else? ;)

I think we're going to veer away from everything being "scientifically".

It's not my story. The OP wanted an as scientically plausible scenario as possible to explain his/her creatures. Having a predator resemble its prey such that it makes it easier to approach the prey is already known in the animal kingdom. If these, "angel-things," prey upon humans, it is reasonable that they might resemble humans more than birds.

jaeladarling
10-20-2011, 02:29 AM
You don't have to call it "magic". You really don't have to call it anything. Just let them do what they do, and don't worry about why. So you've got these strange, soul-eating humanoids that fly. That's intriguing enough for the average reader. If you want to describe a bit of what they look like, stick to the basics. Do they hunch? Are they ugly? Are they strong? Those are the essentials, really, and if there are any nits to be picked, your uber-geek fans will eventually get 'round to that. ;)

Manuel Royal
10-20-2011, 06:32 AM
But then, bumblebees fly and aren't they technically too big for their wings to carry them?No, they aren't. There's a persistent myth about aviation science being unable to explain bumblebee flight.

My favorite winged pseudohumanoids (I use that term because I count the wings as additional limbs) are the Overlords in Clarke's great Childhood's End. Of course, they lived in an environment of less than Earth gravity.

And Gordon R. Dickson wrote a story called "Maverick", in a themed anthology called Five Fates, about a world of winged, birdlike people, with various physiological adaptations. I don't remember if they could actually fly, though.

Anyhow, I suppose there is a magical component, although I'm not too fond of the word magic. Everytime I hear magic I think "hocus-pocus" and spellbooks and witches, etc. but I suppose anything that can't be proven scientifically would be deemed magic. But that's just me. I've never cared for the terms hero or heroine, either. Those make me think of people dressed up in superhero suits or whatever.If possible, read Poul Anderson's omnibus Operation Chaos, Heinlein's story "Magic, Inc.", Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy stories, and the de Camp & Pratt "Incompleat Enchanter" stories before tackling this. That's my advice, anyway.

Ardent Kat
10-20-2011, 09:45 AM
That's what I'm thinking - just forget the science and write the damn thing (as I've been doing). I guess I just see comments on books or reviews, etc. and people seem to nitpick these type of things so I wanted to make it at least a little more plausible.

Yup. Others have made a good argument for suspension of disbelief. If you don't like the word "magic", then call it "supernatural" (probably a more accurate term anyway)

But for the sake of those nitpickers, I recommend you go all the way when it comes to the supernatural/suspended disbelief angle. If you go out of your way to explain some details plausibly, your picky readers will cry louder for the ones you don't explain. If your Reaper's wings have an ethereal blue glow or they can disappear and reappear at will, the audience will realize this is so blatantly supernatural they'd be foolish to nitpick about hollow bones and wingspan.

ETA: Don't convince yourself you're somehow "cheating" by hand-waving about the details. Trust that your readers have a sense of wonder in-tact, that we enjoy the supernatural, and that we'd prefer to read a fascinating (if implausible) winged character rather than have winged characters completely written out of fiction due to lack of "realism."

akaria
10-21-2011, 12:44 AM
With winged humanoids, as a reader I'd be more concerned that their culture was realistic than anything about their anatomy.

THIS. Fans of UF will come to you with a healthy suspension of disbelief. You don't have to explain how or why they fly but do have them be consistent with how a winged person would act. Having them sitting on a couch or riding in a car would break my suspension of belief because it would seem uncomfortable and unrealistic. OTOH, the less you tell me about their digestive system the better. :)

Ryan K
10-21-2011, 12:31 PM
I'll say this much; you see a whole lot of avian-winged-humans in popular media. What you don't see a whole lot of flying birds that don't have tails/tail-feathers. I can't wait to see this leap of logic in the natural world take flight in illustrated works, because I haven't yet. To be fair, I haven't looked a whole lot, but I am receptive to it at any rate.

Go on. Shake a tail-feather.

It's a brilliant way to increase lift-surface of a humanoid wanting to take flight, and makes the ride smoother too.

Actually, as a side note, I was tickled pink whilst watching How To Train Your Dragon; the amount of actual design that went into the aerodynamics of Toothless is commendible. Flight-surfaces everywhere.